HC Deb 13 March 1888 vol 323 cc1055-60

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Dodds.)

MR. BROADHURST (Nottingham, W.)

, who had a Notice on the Paper of his intention to move the rejection of the Bill, said: Sir, since this Bill was first presented to the House, I am pleased to say that, between its promoters and myself, it has undergone considerable modification. The Bill, as originally drawn, proposed to empower the Lambeth Vestry, in connection with and in conjunction with the Metropolitan Board of Works, to obtain this site for the purpose of forming a public Park or Gardens. It then went on to give power to the same authorities to re-sell or re-let, on building lease, any portion of the ground which they thought proper to sell or let. Now, I considered such a provision to be altogether unreasonable, seeing that it amounted to a proposal to deprive the people of this locality of one of the open spaces in the district. This is the chief proposal in the Bill which I object to. There are some other clauses in the Bill which have been very considerably altered, and others have been removed altogether, so that in a great measure the details of the Bill, and the power originally proposed to be given to the Lambeth Vestry and the Metropolitan Board of Works have been modified. I should like to point out to the House, in order that the Committee before whom the Bill will probably go, may know that even as the Bill now stands it is proposed to allow the continuance on the property of four substantial dwelling-houses. The Bill proposes that 12 acres of land should be purchased for the purpose of forming a Park or Public Gardens. But, at the same time, it is proposed to retain two acres out of the 12 for residential purposes, and those two acres are to be so occupied for an unexpired term of 21 years. Now, I consider this to be an outrageous feature in the Bill, and I strongly deprecate its inclusion. But the Committee who are promoting the measure, and among whom are some hon. Friends of mine, have contributed largely towards the expense, and therefore I am bound to say that, as far as they are concerned, they have only one object in view, and that is to secure the health and pleasure of the people of the immediate neighbourhood. But I never heard before of power being asked to purchase a piece of land for a Public Park, and, at the same time, to seek powers to allow four houses, occupying a space of two acres of the land, to remain in occupation for the long term of 21 years. These are the features of the Bill itself, as drawn up, to which I take exception, but which have been to a very considerable extent met by the promoters and partially erased from the measure. And now, Sir, with regard to the object of the proposal as a whole. We are asked to believe that this Public Park is a necessity for the poor of the neighbourhood. I have always been in favour of the protection of commons and of open spaces, and of increasing them wherever it is necessary and wherever it is possible. But we can scarely look upon this as a necessity at all. In the neighbourhood where this site is selected we find, from the Medical Officer's Return, that the population is only 47 to the acre—that is to say, that there are only 47 persons to the acre in the neighbourhood to which this Bill is to apply. In the Vauxhall district, I understand, there are less than 100 persons per acre, although, down in the lower parts of the parish—that is to say, in those parts nearer London—there is a population of 230 persons to the acre. Nevertheless, the Lambeth Vestry have never made any attempt, so far as I am aware, to preserve or acquire any open space for that part of the Parish of Lambeth which most stands in need of it. Within 20 minutes' walk of this site which the Lambeth Vestry propose, with the assent of the House, to purchase, there are two of the finest commons in the neighbourhood of London. There is Tooting Common, a common which for beauty cannot be excelled in the whole of the United Kingdom, and a resort of the utmost value for the purposes of health. There is also Clapham Common within 20 minutes' walk. Thus there are two commons within an easy walk of 20 minutes of this site. The parishioners are asked to consent to this scheme, which proposes to give upwards of £40,000 for 12 acres of land, three of which are already protected by an old Act of George III., and cannot possibly be built upon, while two acres are to remain in the possession of the present residents, or the Lambeth Vestry, for 21 years. They are asked to give more than £40,000 for this patch of land, which, after all, is only as it were a cover in the wall. There is no entrance to it at the back. It is merely an oblong-piece of land running straight back from the road, and the only entrance to it is from the road. Under these circumstances, I think I am justified in expressing some doubt as to the manner in which this attempt to sell the land to the rate-payers has been brought about. [An hon. MEMBER: Hear, hear!] I am glad to find my hon. Friend present to support me. This piece of land was purchased by a member of the Vestry for about one-half of the price at which it is now proposed to sell it to the Vestry. A more beautiful family arrangement was scarcely ever heard of. The innocent Charity Commissioners, and the Metropolitan Board of Works, whose reputation is not of a very high pitch at this moment, are made parties to the transaction. [Cries of "Question!"] This is the Question, because the Metropolitan Board of Works has been, and must, if this Bill be passed, be a party to this transaction, and the hon. Gentleman has no right to call "Question!" in this instance. We are asked to purchase this land at nearly double the price at what it was originally sold. If the Lambeth Vestry are really desirous of promoting the health of the people by providing open spaces for them, why do they not do so in the neighbourhood where the inhabitants are 230 to the acre, instead of in the neighbourhood of Brixton Hill, which is an entirely open and healthy neighbourhood with two commons quite close, and a new park within easy reach in Camberwell? Why do not the Lambeth Vestry provide open spaces where they are more required, and why was it that the Lambeth Vestry did not constitute themselves the original purchasers of this plot of land, instead of allowing one of its members to purchase it, and then to re-sell it to the Vestry at a profit of £15,000 or £20,000? I do not propose to detain the House at any length in reference to the monstrous character of this proceeding; I will only remark that there has been a perfect mania in Lambeth of late for purchasing property. We have heard of another instance in which property has been also purchased by a member of the Vestry; indeed, the members of the Vestry appear to me to be chiefly land-jobbers who live in the neighbourhood and prowl about all night and all day gathering up every vacant spot of land they can set their eyes upon. When they have secured a piece, they suddenly find that the particular piece of land they have acquired is the exact spot where it is absolutely necessary to provide a public park or gardens for the residents on the right and left. The price required from the Vestry is generally about double that which has been given by the purchaser; but the proceeding is one which only requires a little management and arrangement between the mutual friends who are associated together in this institution. I feel that I should have been justified in using much stronger language in connection with some of these transactions than I care to do, out of respect and regard to the feelings of some of the gentlemen in the neighbourhood, who, I am sure, have never realized what they were committing themselves to when they gave large subscriptions towards the promotion of this Bill. Of course, I have been denounced for my opposition to the measure when it was first made known; but now I am receiving letters from Public Bodies in the neighbourhood, thanking me for what I have done, and saying that through my action a great injustice that would have been committed has been stopped, and, therefore, they and the ratepayers are indebted to me. Having made this statement, and relieved my conscience of the guilt which would have rested upon it if I had permitted this gross transaction to have passed unnoticed, I do not know that I will trouble the House to go to a Division on the second reading of the Bill. ["Oh!"] I have stated the reason why I shall not do so, and I think it is a very good reason. I sincerely hops that when the Bill reaches a Select Committee upstairs it will undergo a strict investigation; and it will be a question whether the measure, even as it now stands, should be allowed to pass without postponing it for another year in order to give the neighbourhood time to consider whether it is necessary or not to secure this site. I have no personal interest to serve in the matter. Indeed, my personal interest would rather be in favour of a public park and gardens, because I live close to this site. I may, however, say that although I am a ratepayer living within 100 yards of this property, I only ascertained by accident that this Bill was being promoted. If hon. Members will look at the Bill as it was originally introduced, and then at the mangled remains to which conscience and reason combined together have reduced the original draft, I think they will say there is some excuse for me in not troubling the House with a Division. If, however, any other hon. Member thinks proper to divide the House, I shall certainly go into the Lobby with him. I thank the House for having allowed me to make this statement in the interests of the ratepayers, and in denunciation of what I consider to be a most questionable transaction between some of the loading members of the Vestry and the Metropolitan Board of Works. I trust some explanation will be given of the action which the Metropolitan Board of Works have taken in regard to the Bill.

MR. TATTON EGERTON (Cheshire, Knutsford)

Equally with the hon. Member who has just sat down, I shall not propose to divide the House; but I hope the House will allow me to give one or two words of explanation in regard to the action of the Metropolitan Board of Works on this question. I think that any hon. Member who took up this Bill and looked at it with care would gather that the Metropolitan Board of Works was a party to the transaction. As a matter of fact, it is nothing of the sort. The Metropolitan Board, according to the wording of the Bill, are the promoters of the undertaking. The Bill specifies the Metropolitan Board or the Lambeth Vestry, or either of them. Now, the Metropolitan Board has never been consulted in any manner in regard to this Bill. Some member of the Metropolitan Board brought an application before the Board, urging the importance of securing this plot of ground, and was successful in getting permission from the Metropolitan Board to contribute a moiety of £1,000 per acre towards the formation of a public park. The Metropolitan Board, representing the Metropolis, have always done their best to secure open spaces for the public, and it was on that ground, and that ground alone, that they entertained the proposal made to them. They were pressed on every side, and the greatest pressure was brought to bear upon them, to contribute a much larger sum; but they put their foot down, and said there was no precedent whatever for contributing more than £1,000 per acre. That is the sole position which the Metropolitan Board have taken in relation to the Bill, and they have, to their astonishment, found themselves posted as being the promoters of it. They had nothing whatever to do with it, and, on their behalf, I disclaim every connection with it; or with the second reading of the Bill.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed.

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